AZUSA — Mayor Eugene Moses, who had said that his life had become smoother since he hired a private detective as a bodyguard and investigator, found himself in trouble last week while his detective was out of town.
Moses got a ticket for running a stop sign, a citation for letting weeds get out of hand in his backyard and a rash that covered his body after he tried to cut down a patch of poison ivy.
Blaming the weed and traffic citations on his political enemies, Moses said it all might not have happened if Joe Grando, the former FBI agent he has employed since early this year to investigate political matters and provide personal protection, had been in town. "The detective had been gone for two weeks," he complained.
Yard Work Too Slow
Moses said he has been trying to clear a patch of poison ivy from his backyard for months, but he has not moved fast enough to suit the county Fire Department.
Fire Patrolman Sherman Sperl handed Moses a citation Sept. 26 for failing to comply with a notice to remove "accumulated dry weeds."
Sperl's wife, Pat, is administrative assistant in Azusa, and Moses has been seeking for months to oust her from her job. Moses said it is more than a coincidence that the man who gave him the citation is married to a city employee he has called overpaid and under qualified.
While he cannot prove a connection, Moses said: "I have my suspicions."
Moreover, capping an unfortunate weekend, the mayor said he picked up a traffic citation late Sunday in Monrovia while en route to the police station there to talk to a Monrovia police sergeant who lives in Azusa and who had published a letter critical of Azusa's political leadership in a local newspaper. The mayor said he received the citation for running a stop sign even though he had gone barely beyond the intersection line.
'Hit List' Alleged
Last month at a City Council meeting, Moses strongly criticized City Administrator Julio Fuentes for retitling Sperl's part-time job from administrative aide to administrative assistant. The council majority backed Fuentes and accused Moses of harassing employees. Councilman Bruce Latta said Sperl is one of several employees the mayor wants to fire and has put on a "hit list."
Although acknowledging that she has been under attack from the mayor, Sperl denied that her husband had retaliated for her. "I am not political," she said. "I do my job."
Sherman Sperl said he had been advised by his superiors against commenting on the situation and referred a reporter to Ronald Jones, assistant fire chief.
Jones said he assured the mayor last week that Sperl was just carrying out his job. "His duty is to inspect lots that have brush on them and get it improved," Jones said, adding that Sperl had acted properly and not singled out Moses.
The mayor, whose house is on a one-acre hillside lot in the foothills, was first notified to clean up the brush in June, Jones said, and was given five extensions before Sperl issued a citation, which requires Moses to appear in Citrus Municipal Court on Oct. 20. Jones said the mayor could be fined $50.
Moses said that his neighbors have brush just as thick but haven't been cited. Jones agreed but said that the neighbors were issued notices to clear their brush in late August and September and that if they don't comply, they will be cited too.
The mayor said he cannot understand "how a fireman can be so dumb" not to realize that it takes time to clear half an acre infested with poison ivy.
Moses said the Fire Department gave him two masks to wear while he hacks at the weeds. Still, he said, his body is covered with rashes and he coughs all the time. "My lungs are full," he said. "It itches and gets in your eyes."
Jones said the mayor could spray the poison ivy to kill it, then rake up the dead weeds.
But it's not that easy, Moses said, because the poison ivy is twisted in trees and hard to get at.
Moses said Sperl advised him to hire professionals to do the work, but he scoffed at that idea. "If I had $10 million, I could do a lot of things," he said.
Hired Hands Quit
Moses hired two brothers to help him Tuesday, but that ended in disaster. Moses said one of the men, in his 30s, quit with a rash after 20 minutes of work and the other pulled weeds for an hour and a half before "his eyes closed up." Moses said he called paramedics, who took the man to a hospital emergency room for treatment.
So far, the mayor said, he has hauled seven truckloads of poison ivy out of his back yard.
Moses said he does not question the need to clear brush to prevent fires. But he said the only safe way for him to remove the poison ivy, roots and all, is to work at it slowly and stop when he feels a reaction to it.
"You're not dealing with a normal thing here," he said.